Newsletter: January 2010
Table of Contents
- SWG News. Our annual New Year's letter from the moderators looks back at our accomplishments in 2009 and ahead to 2010. Our ToS is now available in Finnish (thanks, Hallbera!) and we're still looking for any willing
victimsvolunteers to help us run this year's Back to Middle-earth Month event.
- Character of the Month Biography: Glorfindel, by Oshun. Glorfindel is a character both elusive and storied in Tolkien's legendarium. In the first part of a two-part series on Glorfindel, Oshun considers whether Glorfindel of Gondolin and Glorfindel of Rivendell are the same character.
- Linguistic Foolery:: Elven Holidays and Festivals: What do we have to work with in the First Age?, by Darth Fingon. With the busy Modern-earth holiday season behind us, one can only wonder if the Elves ever succumbed to such mayhem. This month's Linguistic Foolery considers the holidays we know existed and offers advice for inventing the holidays we like to imagine existed.
- Funny Pages: Gothmog and Draugluin, by Pandemonium_213. Fingon continues on his quest to rescue Maedhros from Thangorodrim, this month singing that song of old.
- Current Challenges. This month, we continue our Lost Letters challenge, revisit a past challenge, and offer a new quote for the month.
- Around the World and Web. Announcements and events from Tolkien groups beyond the SWG.
Happy New Year!
Dear SWG members,
Every year, we write a letter for the New Year to remember the year's highlights and to show our gratitude for the group's many accomplishments. Every year, it seems, we think, "This year was the best! Surely next year can't get better than this!" But then the next year rolls around and the next year's New Year's letter, and it seems you all have done it again: made it our best year yet.
This has been our best year yet, and we have all of you--those of you who write, read, and review on the archive; contribute to the newsletter and References; discuss and debate on the mailing list; volunteer your time to our various projects and events; and share stories on our LiveJournal community--to thank for it.
SWG is going into its fifth year in 2010. We're at the point where the group no longer feels like a novelty. When newcomers want to know places where they can find excellent Tolkien-based writing, SWG often gets mentioned in the company of the many illustrious groups and archives that make this community so vibrant. No one wonders who we are when stories posted on our site show up on the MEFAs and other fandom-wide projects. There are many groups and archives much newer than we are. The shine has worn off of our "new" website and "new" archive. Even when we hold events--like Back to Middle-earth Month 2009 and Akallabeth in August, we receive comments about how we always host good events ... it's a given, no longer all that special that we simply do.
So how is this our best year yet? Because even though we, the group moderators work quietly behind the scene to keep the site running and updated, it is you--our members--who continue to challenge yourselves and each other creatively and intellectually every day and make this a site worth visiting. In a fandom that has grown noticeably quieter since SWG entered the scene five years ago, you assure that there are always new stories and lively debates to keep the dust from collecting in our little corner of the fandom. And on the Internet, where sites backed by big money and big dreams can disappear in the blink of an eye, we are entering our fifth year--because of you.
As the moderators of this group, it is our honor and pleasure to work with such a talented and enthusiastic group of people on a daily basis. So thank you for all that you do, and here's to making 2010 our best year ever!
Yours in service,
Dawn, Uli, Tárion, Rhapsody, and Angelica
SWG Moderation Staff
Back to Middle-earth Month 2010
This year, for Back to Middle-earth Month, we will be running a team challenge in the form of a quest game, and we need volunteers to plan and help us run the game. If you think you might be interested in helping, please email us at email@example.com for more information. You do not need to be an SWG member or have any experience running fandom events in order to volunteer.
As we did last year, this event will be open to all people and groups in the Tolkien fandom who wish to participate and will not just be limited to the characters, eras, and events covered in The Silmarillion. If your group would like to get on board for this year's B2MeM, please contact us at the address above so that we can begin sharing information.
More information will follow in the months to come!
SWG Terms of Service Now Available in Finnish
The Terms of Service (ToS) for our site are now available in Finnish! Many thanks to Hallbera for doing the translation!
We are always looking for our ToS and other site documents to be translated into languages other than English. If you'd like to help with a translation, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Character of the Month Biography
Glorfindel of Gondolin and Glorfindel of Rivendell
(Part 1 of 2)
Glorfindel is one of several among Tolkien’s notable heroes who have provoked a substantial amount of controversy. There is, of course, the question as to why Glorfindel’s horse Asfaloth wore a bit and bridle in the first edition of The Lord of the Rings “when Elves ride without bit, bridle or saddle” (1). This reader would not have been drawn into that discussion, but Tolkien himself saw fit to agree to correct the questionable bits of tack to read “headstall” (2). Further clamor ensued when many Tolkien buffs were provoked to complain when Glorfindel’s big potential scene in Peter Jackson’s filmed version of The Lord of the Rings was given to Arwen (one of many controversial changes introduced into the movie script). Of greater significance, however, is the ongoing dispute over whether or not Glorfindel of Gondolin and Glorfindel of Rivendell can be considered to be the same character.
Apparently, from Tolkien’s unpublished notes and various comments upon those drafts by Christopher Tolkien, one is able to conclude that at the time his father had written details of a character named Glorfindel into the narrative of The Lord of the Rings he had not intended said Glorfindel to be one and the same as the Elf lord Glorfindel who is described as the head of the House of the Golden Flower in his earlier accounts of the fall of the hidden city of Gondolin (3).
However, at some point, Tolkien became aware of the duplication of names. He then considered his alternatives. The narrative of the fall of Gondolin was one close to his heart and changes to it could not be lightly considered. He could declare the two characters to be one and same and, if so, it would be necessary to conceive of a plausible history or back story to explain how Glorfindel died and returned to Middle-earth. Secondly, he could decide to distinguish them one from the other and leave it at that.
More than thirty years later [approximately 1972 according to further remarks by Christopher Tolkien] he took up the question of whether Glorfindel of Gondolin and Glorfindel of Rivendell were indeed one and the same, and this issued in two discussions, together with other brief or fragmentary writings closely associated with them. I will refer to these as 'Glorfindel I' and 'Glorfindel II'. (4)
In the scenario that Christopher Tolkien refers to as ‘Glorfindel I,’ his father’s notes delineated a plot which would include Glorfindel returning from Aman to Middle-earth in the early part of the Third Age as a companion of Gandalf and representative of the Valar to the Men and Eldar of Middle-earth.
The second scenario, ‘Glorfindel II’, places Glorfindel’s return to Middle-earth in the Second Age, during the reign of Gil-galad. The majority of those who argue that the two Glorfindel stories should be merged into one have a tendency to take the Glorfindel II scenario as their “canon Glorfindel.” They would posit that Glorfindel, one of the heroic defenders of Gondolin, was returned in the Second Age to bolster the forces of Gil-galad and Elrond in the fight against Sauron.
Those who reject the One-Glorfindel theory might use a few different arguments. There could be an unwillingness to accept the introduction of the requisite complicated theories of Elven reincarnation at all. Tolkien had not yet carefully worked out the details of those aspects of his canon, as his remarks relating to his personal continuing development of various theological concepts expressed, for example, in his comments upon the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth. Others may simply reject any newly introduced concept which had not yet passed into a final draft in the narrative.
Readers fascinated by Tolkien’s Elves more likely than not found themselves initially drawn to learning more about them not from reading The Silmarillion or combing the volumes of The History of Middle Earth but from their first exposure to these quasi-immortal beings in The Lord of the Rings. Among the first Elves that one meets in those books is Glorfindel. Tolkien’s physical description of this noble Elf lord is unforgettable:
Glorfindel was tall and straight; his hair was of shining gold, his face fair and young and fearless and full of joy; his eyes were bright and keen, and his voice like music; on his brow sat wisdom, and in his hand was strength. (5)
The original character of Glorfindel of Gondolin, on the other hand, can be traced back to one of Tolkien’s earliest versions of his history of the Elves, The Fall of Gondolin (6), segments of which survived into the later text Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin (7), parts of which came to be included in the published Silmarillion.
Christopher Tolkien notes:
My father said more than once that ‘The Fall of Gondolin’ was the first of the tales of the First Age to be composed, and there is no evidence to set against his recollection. In a letter of 1964 he declared that he wrote it “‘out of my head’ during sick-leave from the army in 1917,” and at other times he gave the date as 1916 or 1916-17. (8)
Tolkien’s description of Glorfindel in The Fall of Gondolin rivals that in The Lord of the Rings for its picture of beauty and light personified.
There stood the House of the Golden Flower who bare a rayed sun upon their shield, and their Chief Glorfindel bare a mantel so broidered in threads of gold that it was diapered with celandine as a field in spring; and his arms were damascened with cunning gold. (9)
The name Glorfindel means “golden hair” (10). Christopher states:
This name is in fact derived from the earliest work on the mythology: The Fall of Gondolin, composed in 1916-17, in which the Elvish language that ultimately became that of the type called Sindarin was in a primitive and unorganized form, and its relation with the High-elven type (itself very primitive) was still haphazard. It was intended to mean 'Golden-tressed',(4) and was the name given to the heroic 'Gnome' (Noldo), a chieftain of Gondolin, who in the pass of Cristhorn ('Eagle-cleft') fought with a Balrog [Demon], whom he slew at the cost of his own life.
(4) [For the original etymology of Glorfindel, and the etymological connections of the elements of the name, see II.341.] (11)
An enquiry of Darth Fingon relating to the name resulted in the following explanation:
From what I can tell, Glorfindel is an early Gnomish name. . . . 'Findel' is an archaic version of the word that later became 'finnel' in mature Sindarin. This is how the word would have existed in the North Sindarin spoken in the First Age. Whether or not North Sindarin or a dialect similar thereto was spoken in Gondolin is not explicitly known, but it's both possible and probable. Therefore, the name Glorfindel would have been accurate Sindarin in the First Age.
Over the next few millenia, Sindarin underwent several sound changes. The shift of medial ND to NN is one, so by the Third Age 'findel' had become 'finnel'. Glorfindel, had he been named in this era, would have been Glorfinnel instead.
It's also possible that only the spelling of his name remained archaic while the everyday pronunciation was updated to Glorfinnel. (12)
The golden-haired and golden-outfitted Glorfindel cannot but remind one of the western storytelling trope of dividing good and evil characters into light-haired and dark-haired. The golden-haired Vanyar, favored by Manwë, are blond while the dark-haired Noldor are the rebels against the Valar. In Deconstructing the Hero: Literary Theory and Children's Literature, Margery Hourihan notes that
. . . . for all its variety, The Lord of the Rings simply reasserts the traditional dualisms and the superiority of the Western patriarchal elite.
This is readily apparent if we compare the language used to describe the good characters with descriptions of the Orcs. Here is Frodo's, and the reader's, first sight of the elf lord, Glorfindel:Suddenly into the view below came a white horse, gleaming in the shadows, running swiftly. In the dusk its bit and bridle flickered and flashed, as if it were studded with gems like living stars. The rider's cloak streamed behind him, and his hood was thrown back; his golden hair flowed shimmering in the wind of his speed. To Frodo it appeared that a white light was shining through the form and raiment of the rider, as if through a thin veil. (Tolkien 1954:221 [The Fellowship of the Ring, “Flight to the Ford”])
The indicators of the elf-lord's goodness are all to do with status, wealth, beauty and blondness. (13)
This obviously is mitigated by the fact that Elrond and his progeny, for example, who unquestionably take their place along side the good in Tolkien’s legendarium, are raven-haired, along with the majority of Tolkien’s Elves.
Another question raised in relationship to Glorfindel is whence the golden hair? This query is based upon the statement that “[t]hey [the Noldor] were tall, fair of skin and grey-eyed, though their locks were dark, save in the golden house of Finrod” (14). The texts do not posit anywhere that Glorfindel is either of the house of Finrod Felagund or that he might be of Vanyarin descent. It would not appear to be unreasonable to assume that the latter in particular might be true, since Tolkien did introduce examples of mixed Noldorin and Vanyarin heritage among named characters in his legendarium.
--to be continued
(Part two of the Glorfindel biography, which will be published in next month’s newsletter, will largely consist of the separate narratives of Glorfindel’s deeds and his character development in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings.)
- Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Introductory notes to Tolkien’s letter 211.
- Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, 211 To Rhona Beare.
- The Peoples of Middle-earth, Part Two: Late Writings, “Last Writings.”
- The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Many Meetings."
- The Book of Lost Tales, Part 2, The Fall of Gondolin.
- Unfinished Tales, Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin.
- The Book of Lost Tales, Part 2, The Fall of Gondolin.
- Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, 345 To Mrs Meriel Thurston.
- The Peoples of Middle-earth, Part Two: Late Writings, “Last Writings.”
- Email correspondence, dated January 2, 2010.
- Margery Hourihan, Deconstructing the Hero: Literary Theory and Children's Literature. (London: Routledge, 1997) 35.
- The Book of Lost Tales I, The Cottage of Lost Play (note by Christopher Tolkien).
Elven Holidays and Festivals: What do we have to work with in the First Age?
Holidays and festivals are a popular occurrence in fanfiction, offering a good excuse for drunken mirth or to assemble large groups of characters who might not otherwise have much contact. But what choices does an author have in terms of celebrations throughout the year? Very little of what's listed in the calendar information of Appendix D of is applicable in a Silmarillion setting. Luckily, other sources contain more appropriate alternatives.
There are two explicitly named Elvish holidays that, without a question, are celebrated in the First Age. Both of them are holidays of Gondolin, but may have been observed elsewhere.
Nost-na-Lothion is a spring festival described on pages 171 and 172 of the :
Yet in its time a spring of wondrous glory melted the skirts of those white mantles and the valley drank the waters and burst into flowers. So came and passed with revelry of children the festival of Nost-na-Lothion or the Birth of Flowers.
No exact time of year is given for Nost-na-Lothion, but the Quenya names of the months might give some clue. May is called Lótessë in Quenya and Lunde Lótëa or Lotession in the Qenya Lexicon: all of these names are related to the words for 'flower' and 'blossom', making May the month of flowers. It would therefore make sense for Nost-na-Lothion to occur at the beginning of May.
Immediately following on page 172 is a mention of Tarnin Austa:
And now at great length is that great fest of Tarnin Austa or the Gates of Summer near at hand. For know that on that night it was their custom to begin a solemn ceremony at midnight, continuing it even until the dawn of Tarnin Austa broke, and no voice was uttered in the city from midnight until the break of day, but the dawn they hailed with ancient songs.
Tarnin Austa can be literally translated as 'passage into summer', and thus probably occurs on the summer solstice (as with Nost-na-Lothion, no timeframe is given). The term Austalendë, meaning 'Midsummer's Day', appears in the Qenya Lexicon and could very well be another name for the same holiday.
A third named holiday appears in the , this time in volume one. However, given that it takes place during the time of Eriol's visit to Tol Eressëa, its general relevance to the First Age is questionable. However, it is worth mentioning simply because its name appears in both Qenya and Gnomish: Q Turuhalmë ('log drawing') and G Durufui ('log night'). From page 260:
that was the day of Turuhalmë or the Logdrawing. "Twill be a fitting day,' saith Lindo, 'for the sports of the morning in the snow and the gathering of the logs from the woods and the songs and drinking of Turuhalmë will leave us of right mood to listen to old tales beside this fire.' ... and the company from Mar Vanwa Tyaliéva went into the snowy woods to bring back firewood on sleighs. Never was the Tale-fire allowed to go out or to die into grey ash, but on the eve of Turuhalmë it sank always to a smaller blaze until Turuhalmë itself, when great logs were brought into the Room of the Tale-fire and being blessed by Lindo with ancient magic roared and flared anew upon the hearth.
In the Gnomish Lexicon entry for Durufui, both it and 'the feast of Turuhalmë ' are loosely translated as 'Yule'. Under the related entry for halm, a further explanation is given that "halm [drawing] is properly the morning followed in the evening by that festival called Durufui, or Tonfui [fire night] (, p 47)." No timeframe is given for Turuhalmë here or in the , other than that it takes place in winter. But if one wants to take a guess, the winter solstice would make for a nice placement not only as a complement to Tarnin Austa, but also because mentions the solstice as a notable time for the Elves.
pages 126-127 show an earlier (and more complex and complete) version of the Eldarin calendar that appears in Appendix D. Both are calendars of Imladris as observed by Sam Gamgee, but the obsolete version could be used as an alternate by authors looking for something different for use in the First Age (or among any Elven kindreds outside of Imladris). Here, instead of the beginning of spring, the centuries (and thus the years) "are arranged ... to begin as nearly as possible with the first sunset after the Winter Solstice" (). Two special days are named in this calendar: Quantarië, the Day of Completion (final day of the century or quantië) and Vinyarië, Newyear's Day (first day of the century).
One more possible day of note is listed in the Qenya Lexicon: i Sovallë, 'the purification'. Nothing at all is explained about what 'the purification' is, but its capitalisation indicates that it's not simply an everyday noun. This one is left entirely up to the imagination. All we know is that related words from the same root (SOVO/SOWO) have to do with washing, bathing, and cleansing. Additionally, the month name Sovalwaris appears, meaning 'February'. I Sovallë would logically then take place in February.
Two very important festival times appear in , and neither is given a name. The first famously occurs during the darkening of Valinor and is described as a harvest festival:
Therefore Yavanna set times for the flowering and the ripening of all things that grew in Valinor; and at each first gathering of fruits Manwe made a high feast for the praising of Eru, when all the peoples of Valinor poured forth their music and joy upon Taniquetil. (, pp 74-75)
As usual, no time is given for this outside of the mention of the 'first gathering of fruits' that indicates summer.
Then, when Eärendil comes to Tirion, he arrives during a festival:
So now Earendil had come at a time of festival, and wellnigh all the Elvenfolk were gone to Valimar, or were gathered in the halls of Manwe upon Taniquetil (, p 248)
The purpose of this festival is not given, but the similarities in the descriptions of the deserted stairs and empty streets of Tirion (as well as the gathering of the Eldar upon Taniquetil) during the earlier feast indicate that Eärendil could very well have shown up at the same time of year.
If you feel like inventing a holiday or festival for your story that has some canonical basis, here's an easy way to do it: several of the months are associated with the names of Valar. A festival in honour of the Vala of the month would make sense.
January, according to the Qenya Lexicon, is called not only Lundë Niqilissëa (snowy month), but also Lirillion for its first half (month of Lirillo, Vala of song) and Erintion for its second half (month of Erinti, Valië of love, music and beauty). While neither Lirillo nor Erinti survives past the era of the Qenya Lexicon, January festivals of music and love could still be created as a nod back to these early ideas. February is similarly called Amillion after the obsolete Vala Amillo (Hilary).
March is Lundë Susúlima (month of wind) in Qenya and Súlimë in Quenya. A possible connexion can be made with Manwë Súlimo for a March festival. Next, April shares one of its Qenya names with Vána: the word Tuiléris can be applied to both Vána and April, her month. Then, one of the Qenya names for May, Lotession, could be related to the Valië Lotessë (another name for Erinti, above).
Finally, with a month-name that exists in mature Quenya, September is called Yavannië. Harvest festivals in Yavanna's honour would be appropriate for September.
Have a question or item you'd like to see discussed in a future instalment of Linguistic Foolery? Send an email to email@example.com and share your ideas.
Gothmog and Draugluin
“Gothmog and Draugluin” follows the antics of two Tolkienian icons who were not all about smiting and devouring but had fun, too. Little Gothmog lives in Thangorodrim with his mom (Ulbandi Fluithuin) and dad (Melkor, Black Foe of the World). Melkor’s right-hand man and Gothmog’s babysitter -- Professor Thû ("I'm not a babysitter. I'm an observer!") -- makes appearances, too.
Gothmog and Draugluin also share this space with “Stinky Pete” Mêshûgganâscar, Maia of Mandos, and his pals.
Pandemonium_213 issues the standard disclaimer that Gothmog, Draugluin, Melkor, Ulbandi, Professor Thû, all the Elf dudes, Stinky Pete and his Maiarin pals, their Valarin bosses and whoever else shows up are the property of the Tolkien estate, and that this irreverent comic strip is drawn (badly) for fun and games but not for profit.
Your character is going through paperwork, an old trunk, or the dusty shelves in an forgotten part of the library when she or he discovers a letter from someone no longer present. What does the letter say? What does your character do (or not do) as a result of it?
Challenges Revisited: First Meetings
Anecdotal wisdom speaks of the importance of first impressions. First Meetings was the SWG's third challenge, from November 2005, and challenges authors to consider the first impressions that our favorite First Age characters would have made on those from later ages.
How might a character originating from and living in Valinor react to his or her first meeting with a character just arriving from Middle-earth?
The possibilities for this challenge are vast and encompass all of the ages and Tolkien's works. Perhaps the first to come to mind are those characters from the Third Age who travelled to Tol Eressëa at the end of The Lord of the Rings. However, this challenge also contains the possibility of working with characters well beyond these obvious examples. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Describe the first confrontation between a son of Fëanor and Gimli, knowing that Galadriel gave Gimli the gift of her hair that she'd denied Fëanor.
- Write how Aulë might react to this same situation, to meet one of the most influential of his Dwarves.
- Describe the thoughts of a Valinorean horsemaster upon his first acquaintance with Shadowfax.
- Develop a scene where Eärendil meets his grandsons Elladan and Elrohir for the first time.
- Describe the first conversation between Finarfin--who has never met a mortal man before--and Tuor. Or write about his first encounter with a hobbit.
Quote of the Month
"I say courage is not abnormal.
Not the marvelous act. Not Macbeth with fine speeches.
The worthless can manage in public, or for the moment."
-Jack Gilbert, from The Abnormal Is Not Courage
Want more challenges? Check out our complete challenge listing for more than three years' worth of challenges to inspire your writing!
Have an idea for a challenge? Some of our most popular challenges have been created by you, the members of SWG! If you have a plotbunny gnawing at your ankle, a favorite quote, or a favorite character that you think might inspire others as well, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll try to include your challenge in our next newsletter!
Around the World and Web
Many Paths to Tread--New Archive Open to the Public!
Many Paths to Tread, the archive associated with the LotR Genfic Community, is now open to all Tolkien fans and writers, not just members of the mailing list. MPTT is a genfic archive and accepts stories based on all of Tolkien's books (including The Silmarillion!) up to an R rating. Stop by Many Paths to Tread and check out one of our 376-and-counting stories and do consider sharing some of your own!
LotR Genfic Community: Potluck!
Once again we are having Potluck for the New Year! Behind the cut are the themes and unclaimed elements for ten months of 2009. (January and December are not included, as January is always "potluck" and December is always the Exchange). If you would like to participate in the January Challenge, look through the elements posted, and choose one. Comment to this post with the number of the prompt you have chosen, and I will strike it from the list. For June and July, you do not need to choose a prompt-- just follow the instructions for that month. This is your chance to take part in a challenge you missed. Also, if you claimed a prompt for any month last year and did not finish your story in time, you may enter that instead. (Please comment at the post linked on LiveJournal, and NOT to this email post, as that way you will be able to see which prompts have already been claimed.)
Stories will be due the weekend of January 15th, and will be revealed on Monday January 17th.
At Teitho, the challenge for January is The Price of Freedom: Freedom is one of the most precious things in life. Unfortunately, often we only start to appreciate it once we've lost it. And since it is so precious and fragile, sometimes we have to go to great lenghts to ensure it or win it back. This time around, we want you to explore these lengths. The deadline for this challenge is January 25th. If you want to know more and/or participate, please visit the website.
Middle-earth Fanfiction Awards
The votes are in for this year's MEFAs! Results will be available on January 4. Congratulations again to all of the nominees and reviewers who participated!
Around the World and Web is provided for our members to inform them of events in the larger Tolkien community. SWG is not affiliated with and does not endorse the groups that we feature in Around the World and Web, and we are not responsible for content on sites outside of our own. Please use discretion and caution when visiting unfamiliar sites on the Internet.